Get Your War On

04/22/2009 4:00 AM |

In the Loop
Directed by Armando Iannucci

In the Loop, a manic and borderline screwball verbal satire, marries two comic styles from opposite ends of the pond: zany yet dry-witted English sitcom humor — a la Steve Coogan’s multiple Alan Patridge series, which director Iannucci helped write and produce — meshed with its goofier American counterpart. (Think the ensemble films of Christopher Guest.) For once, Britain and the U.S. sensibilities comedically complement one another: In the Loop is hilarious, peerlessly so among its contemporaries. And it isn’t funny for funny’s sake, either, like so many American film comedies; it uses its humor Colbertly, for the worthy cause of political lampooning.

Set contemporaneously, during the run-up to an unnamed war in the Mid East, the movie, shot like The Office in faux-documentary style (though without all the winking at the camera), follows two sets of behind-the-curtain politicos: on one side of the Atlantic, an English cabinet minister (Tom Hollander) and his retinue; on the other, generals (including James Gandolfini) and assistant secretaries (Mimi Kennedy and David Rasche) and their staffs. Each side has its hawks and doves, scrambling for supremacy in the backroom meetings at 10 Downing Street, the Capitol Building and the United Nations in order to incite a war or prevent it.

It’s a Dr. Strangelove-ian examination of political backstage imbecility, with appointed staffers more concerned with their own careers, saving face in the media or indulging personal rivalries than with the grave and real prospect of war. Baby-faced, fresh-out-of-college grads run major departments of the U.S. government; a pro-war politician uses a live grenade as a paperweight; reports are doctored, intelligence fabricated. The characters’ over-the-top behavior is played for laughs, but it also feels creepily believable — that juvenile knuckleheads and madmen really do make the major political decisions on matters of life and death. At times, the movie seems so credible that chuckling, ineluctable though it is, feels like the wrong response.

Not when Peter Capaldi is on screen, however; he steals the film as a British-government enforcer, reprising a character from Iannucci’s BBC series The Thick Of It, out of which this film grew, though most of the other characters are new. His is a tour-de-force performance, a master class in timing and one-liners that mixes rapid-fire vulgarity with the pop-culture literacy of an Apatovian schlub. Since the dark (i.e. unfunny) AbFab days of the last century, it appears that the once-disparate English-language comic styles are becoming increasingly congruent; the Anglo and American comic actors are meeting somewhere in the middle, finally catching up with their country’s politicians who have been collaborating, troublesomely, for years.

Screens Mon, 4/27 at 8:30pm; Tue, 4/28 at 10:45pm; Fri,5/1, 2:45pm; Sat, 5/2, 8pm. All screenings sold out, but rush tickets may be available. An IFC Films release, coming in July.